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The benefits of walking barefoot

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

There is nothing better than the feeling of grass tickling your feet on a sunny spring day. Historically barefoot walking is the biologically natural way of walking. What if barefoot was better for our posture?

I’ve done some digging and apparently we do not treat our feet properly.

Kristiaan d’Août, an English researcher went to India with the idea to compare native barefoot walkers and shoe walkers. His findings strongly suggest that barefoot walking enables the foot to achieve its biologically ‘normal’ shape and function. Barefoot walkers have wider feet especially at the ball of the foot. He found that this shape of foot allowed a better repartition of the pressure over the foot. Interestingly, Hoffmann (1905) also describes that only a few weeks of shoe-wearing by children already effects foot shape, especially toe placement. It is not surprising that the effect of footwear appears to be greatest during childhood, when the foot is still maturating (i.e. the bones are being ossified and fused, see Whitaker et al. 2002).

What’s more, scientists have found that the cushioned soles of sneakers, for example, push out your pelvis and change your natural posture. Meanwhile, when you're wearing shoes, your foot and heel strike the ground in a slightly different position than they would if you were barefoot, and that small difference can lead to a major impact on your feet, legs and back. They also found that the foot muscles, joints and ligaments in shoe-wearing groups are actually much weaker, because they constantly depend on the shoe for support. The resulting weakness coupled with the foot striking the ground in a way not consistent with the body’s natural posture can lead to injuries like shin splints, plantar fasciitis, torn ACLs, back pain and more.

Don t get me wrong the use of footwear remains necessary, especially on unnatural substrates, and in some pathologies, but current data suggests that footwear that fails to respect natural foot shape and function will ultimately alter the morphology and the biomechanical behaviour of the foot.

When selecting everyday footwear, Kristiaan d’Août suggests to avoid overly stiff shoes (which might preclude a barefoot-type unroll pattern) and to prefer shoes that are sufficiently roomy, especially in the forefoot region. Current designs often constrict the toes and creates hallux valgus (bunions). He suggests that walking and training barefoot or (if the substrate does not allow) using shoes that allow the foot to function as closely as possible as in the barefoot condition, could lead to performance benefits for athletes, is favourable in injury prevention, the best for children to preserve natural foot function.

Ps: if you plan to go to Europe soon have a look at the barefoot sensory trails. They are very popular in Germany. Here is a little teaser. If you're not planning a visit, you can find online tutorials to create your own sensory path in your backyard.

May your feet be well and happy!

Author: Cecile Parain, Osteopath and Owner of Bulb. After 2 years studying medicine in France, Cecile decided to change course for Osteopathy. She graduated in 2008 from COP Aix-Marseille (France) after 5 years of full-time training. Since graduating, she has worked in South of France and Reunion Island in her own clinic. In 2015, she moved to Sydney and settle definitively in the Eastern Suburbs where she took over Bulb Osteopathy. Find out more about her work HERE.


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